REVIEW: Star Trek Online Debuts on Console

Star Trek Online’s console debut on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One provides new gamers an exciting experience and existing STO players an opportunity to experiment with different factions and classes on a new platform.

Like many of you, I have been playing Star Trek Online on the PC for six years now, first participating in the beta and then purchasing a lifetime pass at launch. I quickly leveled up to the maximum one could go to at the time, and then paid little attention to the game as new factions and seasons were released over the years. At launch, STO was a game that was thin on story and heavy on meaningless missions designed for players to obtain the XP necessary to level up and obtain the next new ship they had been coveting.

To my surprise, Cryptic Studios has put a lot of work and care into the game since launch, releasing two expansions and 11 seasons worth of updates over six years that enrich and continue the post-TNG/DS9/VOY story into the 25th century. These expansions and seasons are included in the console release of STO, and starting from scratch made this feel like a completely different game than the one I played at launch.

For long time STO players, the selling point for jumping over to playing the game on a console is difficult. Unfortunately, you cannot bring any of your existing characters with you as the PC, PS4, and XB1 environments are completely separate from one another. This was disappointing to learn during my first interview with Cryptic Studios and Executive Producer Stephen Ricossa several months ago.

However, as someone who spends over eight hours a day at work in a cubicle, hunched over a computer, there is something refreshing about being able to sit down on the couch after a long day and play STO. My level 60 Starfleet Fleet Admiral is still there on my PC and available to revisit at any time, but my singular focus on leveling up that character and getting new ships saw me neglect the Klingon and Romulan factions, in addition to pursuing Starships other than cruisers.

The pitch for existing STO players is exactly that: use the console version of the game to explore factions that you have yet to play. Since launch, I have decided to create a tactically-focused Starfleet character on my PS4 who is now a level 24 Commander. My experience piloting the U.S.S. Defiant in a demo that Cryptic made available to players at Mission: New York motivated this decision. On my XB1, I have decided to try out the Klingon faction for the first time, although my progress has been slow when compared to my Starfleet character.

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Story

What impressed me the most when I began the game as a new Starfleet character was that this was not the same game I played in 2010. The tutorial was new and provides new players, especially those getting used to console controls, the ability to ease their way into the game. I was then thrust into the Klingon War story arc, which was radically different from many of the missions that existed at launch. I would venture to say that, back in 2010, the game lacked an abundance of narrative-driven missions that were fun to play, and advanced the story of the 25th century Star Trek universe. These missions saw my character navigating the new conflict between the Federation and Klingon Empire, as well as including familiar characters, settings, and enemies.

During the story arc, I discovered that the Klingons were attempting to create augments with the help of a descendant of Arik Soong, I had to travel to the 23rd century and work with Dr. McCoy and Scotty to stop a temporal incursion, I had to destroy a Doomsday Machine that the Klingon antagonist was planning to use against the Federation, and I found myself helping the crew of the Enterprise C, including Tasha Yar and Lieutenant Castillo, break out of a Tholian prison after their attempt to return to the past and battle the Romulans at Naranda III took a wrong turn.

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STO is relentlessly faithful to the Star Trek canon that has come before it. As it is set in the 25th century, Cryptic’s developers have the license to develop the future of the Star Trek timeline. However, there are so many chances to go back in time and encounter characters from across canon. The console game is designed to guide you from one story arc to another that are appropriate for your character’s rank. In this way, you experience the game’s story in a linear fashion as the developers intended when they released season after season. I look forward to continuing to explore their version of the 25th century, and coming across throwbacks to previous events in Star Trek’s canon.

Controls

Naturally, it is a challenge for any developer to take a PC game and make it just as satisfying to play on a console. Taking a game that is played with a keyboard and mouse and scaling the controls down to a 16 (XB1) or 17 (PS4) button controller is a monumental task. I am happy to report that Cryptic absolutely nailed their design of a new control scheme for consoles. The control layout feels intuitive and simple, with additional functions such as selecting missions or accessing your inventory relegated to the options/start button.

Space and ground combat has been made easier to control with the introduction of an auto-fire mode. Simply select the target you would like your ship or character to attack, and the game will do so for you when your weapons are recharged. This allows you to focus on maneuvering and activating your personal and bridge officer abilities, as well as healing yourself or repairing your ship.

As PC players are aware, your subordinate officers come with a plethora of abilities that can turn the tide of a battle. These were previously loaded into a bar in the HUD and activated with the click of the mouse. For consoles, Cryptic has followed a number of popular games and folded this feature into a control wheel. There is a default ability that can be changed for tactical, engineering, and science, which can be activated with a single button push. To activate additional abilities in the heat of battle, holding down those buttons will display a wheel of abilities that you can activate by simply selecting the one you want.

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To put it simply, this is one game where I would rather not return to a keyboard and mouse.

Graphics

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STO was in need of a graphical overhaul, especially since its engine was created over six years ago. The new graphics, especially textures and lighting, introduced for the console release (and coming soon to the PC version) do not give the best-looking console games a run for their money, but they do provide a much-needed upgrade. Ships look stunning, and the new lighting system make starship explosions look gorgeous. Planets, nebulae, and asteroids provide a lovely background as you are flying around and completing your missions. The new lighting really shines in ground combat, where particle weapons can be see reflecting off of the surfaces shots pass on their way to impacting their target.

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Bugs

The game is not without its bugs, however, as characters you are interacting with can be late showing up on screen, or you can actually see each element of them being drawn by the engine over the course of a second. In ground combat, the same drawing issues are evident when beaming down to a location, in addition to some texture problems which see the natural texture flicker with unusual colors. Clipping issues also arise frequently as the game will move to a cutscene where my character should appear in the captain’s chair, but he’s either standing on top of it or seemingly falling through the floor.

Further, a game as complex at STO does not provide every answer in its tutorial. Instead, there are non-player characters located at Earth Spacedock that explain how to do certain things in the game (that is, assuming you interact with them).

The Free-to-Play Model

Star Trek Online uses the “freemium” model to monetize the game, meaning that the game is free to download and play but can be augmented with in-game purchases. Thankfully, STO does not require you to invest heavily in in-game purchases to enjoy the best elements, whether they be ships, weapons, or consoles. Players gain new ships for free when they reach levels 10, 20, 30, and 40. Specialty ships are available for purchase through the game’s currency, known as Zen. $1 will get you 500 Zen in the game to spend on what you wish. Cryptic markets ship packs, uniform packs, bridge offers, and other bundles.

Zen is not the only way, however, to pick up these special items. Every mission you complete earns you unrefined dilithium with, when refined, can be traded for Zen. The game does not require you to invest a fortune to get the ship you covet, but you can get it earlier with a Zen purchase (assuming your character is of the appropriate rank to equip it.). Future seasons will also be available as free updates to the game, rather than as paid downloadable content that has seemingly become a hallmark of console games today.

Of course, you can also sometimes win item packs right here on TrekMovie.com! If you’re looking for some new gear for your PlayStation 4, you may want to check back here tomorrow…

Verdict

As a free-to-play game, STO cannot be judged against the flashiest of games on consoles. The game shines in its story and gameplay. For new players who are curious about what happened after the events of TNG/DS9/VOY, this game is a must-have. Cryptic have gone to great lengths to craft the story of what happened leading into the 25th century. Fans will also delight at the appearance of familiar characters voiced by their actual actors.

For long-time players or those who have not played in years, it is a chance to visit different aspects of the game and play missions that may not have been created when you last played.

Ultimately, since the game is free, it is certainly worth a try. Fans just may find themselves having quite a bit of fun.

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